The event took place in Sofia on 22 November and brought together experts working in different fields
Read Twice, the anti-disinformation, pan-European project led by Euro Advance, took its next step by organizing an informative seminar for the general public that took place at Event Space 2020 in Sofia (Bulgaria), yesterday. Called “Read Twice: Immunize yourself against fake news”, it enjoyed the presence of a wide range of experts and the support of IAB Bulgaria and Sofia Municipality.
Boyan Tomov, Chairman of Euro Advance, and Nikola Miladinov, Press and Media Officer at the European Commission’s Representation in Sofia, gave the start of the event in the morning with welcoming words that impressed upon the public the role of the civic sector and the European institutions in the contemporary struggle against disinformation.
The European Commission does not want to be a censor saying who and what should be silenced. We have to get used to living with lies, as they are a natural process in a democratic society. We want to give society the means to learn and immunize itself so that it has a moral compass to guide itself against lies. Bulgaria’s asset is its civil society, which helps to create guidelines. The Commission can support these efforts indirectly with funding,” stated Miladinov.
His words perfectly encapsulated what makes disinformation such an insidious threat to democracy and why it’s so hard to resist, withstand and unroot. In fact, unrooting it is likely to remain a utopian task, which is why upgrading and boosting people’s skills to withstand the effects of false information is where the focus should be in the long term.
Education, education, education – the antidote against disinformation
The Read Twice seminar consisted of two parts. The first of these saw two expert panels take place where experts working in different spheres had the opportunity to present their work and the creative initiatives, they undertake to ensure that the youth of today are prepared for the informational challenges of tomorrow.
Prof. Miglena Temelkova, PhD, rector of the University of Telecommunications and Post (UTP), in Sofia, presented what this educational institution with long traditions is doing to train students in the field of technology and ensure that they remain competitive in the labour market of the future and the challenges of disinformation.
In her view, the answer is interdisciplinary education. As an example, Prof. Temelkova showcased the curriculum of UTP, which now includes programs like the Master’s in Digital Social Technologies, which combines media training with engineering education. This emphasized the importance of having the professionals of tomorrow prepared to deal with disinformation, no matter what field they might be operating in.
Prof. Miglena Temelkova (centre) and Iskra Djanabetska (right) took part in the 1st panel. Source: Euro Advance Association
As a counterpoint, or rather an addition to the ideas of enriching the educational environment, Iskra Djanabetska, presented the Bulgarian platform Knigovishte, of which she is a co-founder. The tool promotes reading and critical thinking among young children through gamification. Linked to this is a new initiative called Vijte (or “Look!”), which presents important news to children in a language comprehensible to them.
The aim of both platforms is to instil a habit in the daily lives of kids not only to read but also to focus their attention on the content they consume and to understand that there can be many nuances in what’s written or being said.
To AI or not to AI
The second panel of the Read Twice seminar focused on the practical solutions and technologies against the false information that already surrounds us today. Invariably and expectedly, the debate here immediately turned towards the role of social media and artificial intelligence (AI) in our daily lives.
In Bulgaria, social media have replaced traditional media as a source of information. Certain event types such as the Covid vaccines, anti-Covid protests, the Bulgarian national public holiday controversy, and debates on providing support to Ukraine, all led to a surge in the interest of Facebook as an information medium, which has not subsided since,” commented Nikola Tulechki, founder of Data for Good and Ontotext.
According to him, despite their professed intention to serve as wide platforms for free expression social media has actually served to drive hard separation lines between different groups of people – creating echo chambers. This can be attributed to the nature of algorithms, which are impartial politically but reward radical content as it gets shared more rapidly. What purveyors of disinformation do is then turn into experts, who know how to manipulate both the algorithms and the public reactions.
In fact, creating content that gets attention and stirs controversy is a job that can already be done by AI tools. And, according to Dobroslav Dimitrov, Chairperson of Bulgarian Association of Software Companies, if there is one word that can describe the future of AI in our lives, it’s “inevitability”.
He demonstrated a “deep fake” audio featuring the voice of a Bulgarian politician, which he said he created the day before in 20 minutes at a price of two US dollars using tools available to everyone. He described the coming of AI as a totally new shift in the arms race between disinformation creators and those trying to counteract them. A race that is only bound to lead to more calamities.
On the plus side, however, Mr Dimitrov saw this as an opportunity for true and authentic journalism to return to the scene as more and more people will start craving verified authenticity in a life increasingly defined by informational overload. This is where traditional media brands, which have withstood the test of time by showing that they always rely on verified information, will regain popularity. However, this also means that verified information may start costing consumers more to get access to.
What the panel experts agreed on regarding things to come in the future was not whether AI would be here in the future, but rather the way it will be regulated in the context of arising geopolitical rivalry between different global civilizations, such as the democratic West and authoritarian China.
Dobroslav Dimitrov talks to the audience about AI. Source: Euro Advance Association
The seminar concluded with a workshop led by Vesislava Antonova, PhD, lecturer at the University of National and World Economy (UNWE), who demonstrated easy-to-use tools available to everyone today interested in adding extra help to their content consumption experience.
Read Twice has received funding under Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV) of the European Union, Grant Agreement 101081326. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of EACEA.